Tag Archives: Philippine Politics

How the Philippines Can Enforce Its Arbitral Award without Going to War with China

By Marcial Bonifacio

August 31, 2020

My friends and countrymen, as we observe National Heroes’ Day on August 31, 2020, it is most appropriate to contemplate our country’s sovereignty, which includes maritime rights.  Throughout his term, President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly expressed the false notion that China is “in possession” of the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and that the Philippines is powerless to assert its sovereign rights therein, short of waging war with China, the latest declaration having been made in his last State of the Nation Address on July 27.  Consequently, every time he does so, his critics persistently rebut him, particularly the astute Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, who was instrumental in the favorable 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the WPS.

In my “Open Letter to President Duterte” and “Why Filipinos Should Give a Damn about Panatag Shoal,” I have presented some of Carpio’s advice on how the Philippines can, indeed, enforce its arbitral award without waging war with China, some of which I have likewise enumerated below.  Some of them are Carpio’s direct response to Duterte upon publicly asking him what action to undertake, as in the following dialogue:

“Xi Jinping [said] there will be trouble,” stated Duterte, “so answer me, Justice, give me the formula and I’ll do it.”

“My response is yes, Mr. President, there is a formula,” replied Carpio, “and not only one but many ways of enforcing the arbitral award without going to war with China, using only the rule of law.”

Without further ado, I present those options which Carpio stated should be implemented “together to fortify the award part by part, brick by brick, until the award is fully enforced.”

  • The Philippines can join a convention with Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei regarding the South China Sea.  The convention can declare that no geologic feature in the Spratly Islands generates an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and that there are only territorial seas from the geologic features that are above water at high tide, as ruled by the PCA.  According to Carpio, China will be “isolated” as the only country claiming EEZs from the Spratly Islands.  Countries that assert freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea are also expected to follow such a convention, he added.
  • The Philippines can invite Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei to conduct joint FONOPs in respective EEZs facing the West Philippine Sea.  “This will be a common assertion by 5 coastal states that each of them have their own respective EEZs in South China Sea thereby enforcing the arbitral award that China’s 9-dash line has no legal effect and cannot serve as basis to claim the waters of the South China Sea,” Carpio said.  By conducting joint FONOPs, it will also affirm the EEZ of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea.  Carpio said that while the Philippines should welcome and join these operations, it has instead distanced the country from them, saying the Philippines “does not take sides” in disputes between China and other countries in the area, a seemingly treacherous gesture vis-à-vis the oldest and most loyal ally, the U.S.
  • The Philippines can welcome and encourage the freedom of navigation and overflight operations (FONOPs) of the U.S., U.K., France, Australia, Japan, India and Canada in the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea. The naval and aerial operations of these naval powers, which are in conformity with UNCLOS and customary international law, have increased in frequency since the 2016 PCA award, and are what Carpio describes as the “most robust enforcement” of the arbitral award, bridging the gap between the rule of law and the rule of justice.
  • The Philippines can persuade the U.S. to declare Panatag Shoal as part of Philippine territory, which would protect it under the 1951 Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).  Such action would add clarity for legal ramifications, since the shoal was known to be under Philippine jurisdiction as early as the American colonial period and even under Spanish rule.  The Japanese did precisely that with their Senkaku islands, which the U.S. declared as part of Japan’s territory for purposes of the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty.
  • The Philippines could send the Philippine Navy to patrol Panatag Shoal.  “As the South China Sea is part of the Pacific,” stated U.S. State Sec. Mike Pompeo, “any armed attack on any Philippine forces, aircraft, or public vessels in the South China Sea will trigger mutual defense treaty obligations under Article 4 of our Mutual Defense Treaty.”  Of course, that would prompt the U.S. Navy to intervene.
  • The Philippines can resume joint naval patrols with the U.S. in the West Philippine Sea in order to project military might, which could deter China from continuing its island-building activity on Panatag Shoal.
  • The Philippine Coast Guard can send its ten 44-meter multi-role response vessels that were donated by Japan to patrol the West Philippine Sea.  These vessels, Carpio said, are ideal for patrolling and catching poachers in the Philippines’ EEZ in the West Philippine Sea. Doing so will also assert the country’s sovereign rights in the maritime area.
  • Congress can enact legislation to make permanent the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).  Indeed, the MDT would be rendered obsolete without either of them as elucidated by Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin:

The Mutual Defense Treaty without the VFA and EDCA may be compared to a deflated balloon. For all practical purposes, it becomes an extra large rubber for an Asian. Far more elastic than he can ever need for its purpose and far more suitable as a shower cap than a prophylactic against foreign aggression.

Aside from the two treaties giving teeth to the MDT, making them permanent would revitalize and fortify America’s alliance with the Philippines while deterring China and other potential aggressors, as well as quelling terrorist threats.

  • The Philippines can emulate America’s foreign policy of imposing visa restrictions on all persons and business entities which Pompeo characterizes as “responsible for, or complicit in, either the large-scale reclamation, construction, or militarization of disputed outposts in the South China Sea, or [the People’s Republic of China’s] use of coercion against Southeast Asian claimants to inhibit their access to offshore resources.”
  • The Philippines can terminate contracts with Chinese firms which are, in any way, involved in reclamation and militarization activities in the WPS.  In fact, Locsin has already publicly said he would make such a recommendation to the appropriate agencies.
  • The Philippines can file an extended continental shelf claim in the West Philippine Sea beyond the 200-nautical mile EEZ off the coast of Luzon, where China is the only opposite coastal state. The Philippines can file this unilaterally with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. China cannot invoke historic rights under its nine-dash line claim which has already been ruled without legal effect by the PCA. China’s own extended continental shelf does not overlap with the extended continental shelf of the Philippines in this maritime area.
  • The Philippines can “bring China’s threat of war to another United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) arbitral tribunal, to secure an order directing China to comply with the ruling of the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal that declared the Reed Bank part of Philippine EEZ.”  He added that the “Philippines can also ask for damages for every day of delay that the Philippines is prevented by China from exploiting Philippine EEZ.”
  • The Philippines can facilitate efforts of active citizens to enforce the arbitral award.  Carpio referred to the case filed by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales against Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court. The complaint accused Xi of crimes against humanity over environmental damage in the South China Sea.
  • According to Senator Richard Gordon, the National Security Council can regularly convene and collaborate with a think tank paneled by foreign policy and defense experts.  Such regular meetings could keep the Philippines prepared for various contingencies.  “Alam naman natin na there is always contention in that area,” stated Gordon, “kaya dapat nakahanda tayo kung ano ang mangyayari diyan.”
  • The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) can and should immediately issue a clarification that China is in fact not in possession, and legally can never be in possession, of the WPS.  According to Carpio, the international law doctrine of unilateral declarations can bind the Philippines to Duterte’s statement about China’s alleged possession of the WPS, whereby China can claim the Philippines has forfeited its sovereign rights.  Hence, clarification from the DFA is essential.
  • The Senate and the House of Representatives can pass resolutions declaring that China is not in possession of the WPS.
  • All professional, civic, social, political, student, and alumni organizations, and all Filipino citizens, can and should overwhelm Malacañang with statements and text messages: China is not, and will never be, in possession of the WPS.

In conclusion, my friends and countrymen, lest the Philippines becomes “a province of China,” we can and must assert our sovereign rights in the WPS, regardless of Duterte’s rhetoric.  In the authoritative words of Carpio, “The Filipino people should not be intimidated by national leaders who peddle a false option that either we go to war with China or submit to China. This false option should be discredited once and for all. . . We cannot adopt a defeatist attitude and just sit idly by and let China seize what international law has declared to be our own Exclusive Economic Zone. . . This is the moment for all Filipinos to unite in defense of Philippine sovereign rights in the WPS.”

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

Is Dick Hindering Digong or Is Digong Suffering from Dick Envy?

By Marcial Bonifacio

Updated: 9/8/19

My friends and countrymen, I realize this commentary comes late but is most appropriate as we observe National Heroes Day.  Indeed, I wish to shed some light on the current issue by providing some historical context, which would otherwise perpetuate misapprehensions and misperceptions about the intentions of a public servant, worthy of the same respect, honor, and adoration as Dr. Jose Rizal.  Therefore, I’ll be killing two birds with one stone.  Without further ado, I’ll begin now.

I’m greatly appalled by the spectacle of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s behavior on August 1, 2019 wherein he went on a tirade against Senator Richard Gordon.  When the former disclosed his decision to appoint former military officials to top government posts, the latter simply commented that having such numerous appointees could potentially be “dangerous because civilian authority must remain supreme over the military.  Dapat three years muna bago ka i-appoint… para mawala muna ‘yung ties mo, the ties that bind.” (There must be three years after relief from active duty before you get appointed…to let go of your ties, the ties that bind.)

Gordon explained, “Ang problema lang kay Presidente, mababaw ang bench niya. He comes from the province, hindi niya nakilala. So, mas nagre-rely siya sa military.” (The problem with the President is that he has a shallow bench. He comes from the province and scarcely knows anyone. So, he relies mostly on the military.)  As a result, during his speech at the 28th founding anniversary of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) commemoration, Duterte made some repugnant and bizarre remarks, which I will list below and consequently address:

“Pero kung ako ang presidente at pupunta ako ng Maynila magtrabaho dito, maghanap ako ng tao. Kung si Gordon lang naman ang makita ko, mag-resign na lang ako [sa] pagkapresidente.” (If I’m the President and I go to Manila to work and look for people, if Gordon is all I’d see here, I’d rather resign as president.)

“Ang tanong niya sa akin, ano daw ang nakita ko sa military. Well, one, sabihin ko sa ‘yo, I can move faster with honesty. Mahirap maghanap ng tao na honest ngayon.” (His question for me is, what do I see in the military? Well, one, I’ll tell you, I can move faster with honesty. It’s hard to find honest people nowadays.)

“Do not be too presumptuous about your talent. Why do you criticize me? It’s my prerogative. It is not prohibited by law. And the law says that the president shall be, kung may tulong siya sa mga taong Cabinet member (if he gets help from Cabinet members), it doesn’t say except those who are ex-military men because they are not qualified.”

“I am challenging him, give me one specific instance that the military, the police or the DILG membership disobeys a single order from me.”

“You won’t ever become vice president. I will make sure of that. You really won’t become vice president. Now if you want that title badly, what you should do is you create a private corporation, make your family the incorporators of that corporation, then appoint a president, a member of your family as president of the corporation, then find a way that you will be seated as the vice president of that corporation.”

“Kung ikaw mag-presidente, sigurado ‘yan wala talagang maniwala sa ‘yo. ‘Yang sinabi mo na ‘yan? ‘Wag ka na tumakbo ng presidente, wala kang makuha sa Armed Forces. Pag manalo ka, kargahin ka diyan galing sa Luneta diretso ka doon sa Bilibid (If you run for president, for sure, no one will believe you. Considering what you said about the military? Don’t ever run for presidency, you won’t get a single vote from the Armed Forces. If you win, you will be carried straight from Luneta to jail),” he added.

“Mabuti kung may away diyan sa Negros, matawag ko ba si Senator Dick Gordon magpunta doon? Magturo-turo, mag-English… Siya lang makaintindi, kinakain niya salita niya, eh (There’s conflict in Negros, it would be good if I could call on Senator Gordon to go there. But what would he do? Teach English? It’s only he who understands himself because he eats his words),” Duterte said.

“Hindi ka naman talaga Filipino, tisoy ka lang. Kami dito mga probinsyano.” (You are not pure Filipino, you are of mixed race. We, from the province, are.)

“You know, I think ‘yung sabi niyang probinsyano ako, sa bagay totoo ‘yan. Pero, at least, probinsiyano ako, my brain stays in my head. ‘Yung utak mo, Dick, natutunaw, napupunta diyan sa tiyan mo. You are a fart away from disaster. Intindihin mo muna ‘yung tiyan mo bago ka makialam sa trabaho ko.” (You know, I think his remark about me being from the province, to be fair, that’s true. But at least I’m from the province, my brain stays in my head. Your brain, Dick, dissolves and goes to your belly instead. You are a fart away from disaster. Mind your belly first before interfering with my job.)

“Take care of your stomach. It’s ugly. You’re just a fart, a heartbeat away from… ‘Yang laki mong ‘yan? ‘Yan ang katawan na mahirap, hindi pwede ambulansya. Karga ninyo sa truck ninyo.” (With your size? You won’t fit in an ambulance. They will carry you at the back of a truck.)

“Sabi ko nga, ikaw, para kang penguin maglakad. Totoo man sabihin mo sa kanya. Makita kami. Sabihin niya sa akin uli ‘yan. Sabihin niya in front of me.” (Like I said, he walks like a penguin. It’s true, you can tell him that. When we see each other, he should tell me what he said to my face.)

To all these insults, Gordon graciously responded, “I take no offense at the President’s comments. As I have said, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and we cannot be onion-skinned about such things. . . I am happy that the President is concerned about my waistline, but he need not worry about that.  My wife has seen to it that I have reduced it significantly of late. But I appreciate that he is concerned about my health as I am about his.”

Now that I have presented the relevant parts of the dialogue between Duterte and Gordon, I will henceforth address each of Duterte’s points.  First, Duterte detests Gordon so much that he would resign as President if he was the only prospective appointee.  However, in a speech at a Philippine Red Cross event in 2017, Duterte praisefully referred to him as “President Gordon,” which would be “only about a few more years.”  Whence came such clear inconsistency in Duterte’s view of Gordon?

Now that I have presented the relevant parts of the dialogue between Duterte and Gordon, I will henceforth address each of Duterte’s points.  First, Duterte detests Gordon so much that he would resign as President if he was the only prospective appointee.  However, in a speech at a Philippine Red Cross event in 2017, Duterte praisefully referred to him as “President Gordon,” which would be “only about a few more years.”  Whence came such clear inconsistency in Duterte’s view of Gordon?

Second, Duterte says he prefers military officials because they are trustworthy, and honest non-military prospects are difficult to find.  Generally speaking, in this seemingly cruel, dog-eat-dog world, it is difficult to find trustworthy friends and spouses, much less good, upstanding public servants impervious to corruption.  However, that is precisely why anyone running for the office of president should have an entrenched political machinery.  That is simply the nature of politics.

Surely Duterte’s close friendships with potential appointees are not limited to current military and retired military officials.  Even if so, can he not find prospects among the network of his own children in public office?  Mayor Sara Duterte or Congressman Paolo Duterte?  What about his college mates or colleagues when he was a prosecutor?  By the way, if military officials are trustworthy, what of the retired generals who are accused of plunder at the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO)?

Third, Duterte questions Gordon’s criticism, defensively stating that his intended appointments are at his discretion and lawful.  Article XVI, Section 5(4) of the 1987 Constitution reads: “No member of the armed forces in the active service shall, at any time, be appointed or designated in any capacity to a civilian position in the Government including government-owned or controlled corporations or any of their subsidiaries.”  Therefore, Duterte is correct with regard to legality and constitutionality.

However, this is not an issue of legality or constitutionality, but of national security and following the spirit of the law, rather than just the letter of the law.  Apparently, Gordon understood the principle of civilian control of the military, since the latter is not an institution “wired for democratic policymaking, governing, or statecraft.”  Rather, its nature is authoritarian and generally functions for defense, deterrence, and killing.

In order to understand Gordon’s concern germane to Duterte’s potential militarization of the government, historical context is instructive.  This concept of civilian supremacy is the trademark of American government, which distinguishes the U.S. as well as other republics (including the Philippines) from authoritarian nations, whose attempts to overturn their governments via military coups, are banal.  In order to institute such a state of affairs, America’s founders delegated some military functions to civilians.

According to Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress shall have the power “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy.”  Article II, Section 2 reads, “The President shall be the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States . . .”  Such a dispersal of power with a civilian check on the military was similarly adopted and assimilated into the Philippine Constitution.

During a time when the world was less interconnected in terms of trade and national defense, a standing army or permanent military force was obsolete, even abhorred by America’s founders.  They knew from their experience under King George III, that on just a whim of a tyrannical government, their rights could easily be violated.  However, this situation changed after World War II and the specter of Communism, whereby a more dangerous world necessitated the banality of a permanent American military force and interventionist foreign policy, even more so today with the rapid spread of Islamic terrorism and the emergence of rogue states, developing nuclear weapons.

Consequently, the U.S. Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947 which mandated a 10-year minimum (currently amended to a 7-year minimum) of inactive military service prior to appointment as Defense Secretary.  Such a law, according to Kathleen Hicks of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “is a prudent contribution to maintaining the constitutionally-grounded principle of civilian control, both symbolically and in practice, in the presence of a sizable and highly capable 21st century military.”  Gordon is fully aware of this American law and proposes it be applied to retired military appointees in the Philippines as well.  However, he suggests a mandatory 3-year (instead of 7-year) hiatus and proposes it for all top civilian posts, aside from that of Defense Secretary.  Such an interval would weaken the “ties that bind” and hence thwart coup attempts by rebels.

From our own history, Gordon has pointed out two coup d’etat attempts by the Magdalo group, which is composed of three Philippine Military Academy graduates, who served in the Bureau of Customs, namely, former Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, Customs Deputy Commissioner Gerardo Gambala, and former Import Assessment Services (IAS) director Milo Maestrecampo.  “First of all,” Gordon asks, “is there any danger, for example, that they could be raising money for a political party like Magdalo? Is there any danger, for example, that they could be raising money to buy arms for another coup?”

V: Gordon’s interpolation

Cognizant of our countrymen’s tendency to be complacent, even in so far as to be acquiescent, Gordon is simply cautioning us, including Duterte, about the risks of appointing newly retired military officials to top civilian posts of government.  The purpose, according to Gordon, is “meant not only to protect the country but his administration.”  That is his mandate as a representative of the people, and if Duterte feels hindered or threatened, perhaps he does not possess an equivalent historical acumen or erudition.  Otherwise, his despotic tendencies may be preventing him from tolerating peaceful dissent or differing public policies, qualities that comprise a thriving republic.

Aside from the ostensible domestic concerns of militarized government, negative global optics can adversely affect international relations in security and business dealings.  Among Duterte’s former military appointees thus far are: Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr., Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Carlito Galvez Jr., Social Welfare Secretary Rolando Bautista, Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council of the Philippines (HUDCC) Chair Eduardo del Rosario, Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, and MMDA Chair Danilo Lim.  Couple such appointments with his numerous visits to military camps throughout the Philippines, his rhetoric on the prospect of establishing a revolutionary government, his demand for authorization to use emergency powers and imposition of martial law, and his censuring of journalists.

Would such optics bode well with the international community?  Would foreign investors feel confident about infusing funds to boost our economy?  Would our allies trust us and continue to provide foreign aid in the form of humanitarian goods and services and military goods and training?  How would potential tourists feel about vacationing in the Philippines?

Fourth, on Duterte’s challenge to Gordon to cite one specific instance wherein a military official disobeyed an order from him, August 20th the day of such an instance.  It was the day Bureau of Corrections Chief Nicanor Faeldon ordered the release of rapist/murderer Antonio Sanchez against Duterte’s order.  According to Duterte, “he violated my instructions.”  That is why on September 4, 2019, the President terminated his public service.  “Faeldon has to go,” he said, “because Faeldon disobeyed my order.”  Hence, Gordon won the challenge without ever uttering a word, since Duterte essentially outchallenged himself.

Fifth, it seems that Duterte has given advice to Gordon on how to become Vice-President.  I must say that I am a bit perplexed.  I was not aware that Gordon has sought or currently seeks such a post.  Therefore, I cannot comment on that, but I will ask: How is that pertinent to the BFP commemoration?

Sixth, Duterte states that should Gordon run for the presidency, nobody would believe him, and the military would not vote for him, due to insulting them.  Why wouldn’t anyone believe Gordon?  He has been consistent in his principles and is even known as “Aksyon Gordon” because he “walks the walk” and doesn’t just “talk the talk.” What precisely was Gordon’s insult to the military?  That the government may become militarized?

Perhaps he shares the same sentiment as one of America’s founders, Samuel Adams, who warned that, “Even when there is a necessity of military power, within the land… a wise and prudent people will always have a watchful & jealous eye over it.”  Why wouldn’t the military vote for Gordon?  I’ll let him defend himself in his own words:

During my first term as Senator, we authored and passed RA 6948 or the Act Standardizing and Upgrading the Benefits for Military Veterans and their Dependents. We even pushed for a higher budget for the military and defense. In fact, during the deliberations of the TRAIN Law, we proposed that 15% of the collections from it be earmarked for military modernization and it passed the Senate. When it was later removed, I threatened to filibuster until the President called and assured me that the executive would ensure that it would be implemented.

Seventh, Duterte expressed his desire for Gordon to accompany him in Negros with regard to the recent killings allegedly committed by the New People’s Army, the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.  However, he questioned what he would do there.  Teach English?  What an excellent idea, since English is a most essential language!  According to the British Council:

English is the main language of books, newspapers, airports and air-traffic control, international business and academic conferences, science, technology, diplomacy, sport, international competitions, pop music and advertising. Over two-thirds of the world’s scientists read in English. Three quarters of the world’s mail is written in English. Eighty percent of the world’s electronically stored information is in English. Of the estimated forty million users of the Internet, some eighty percent communicate in English. . .

Gordon speaks both fluent English and Tagalog.  He is even adept in utilizing English colloquialisms, clichés, and idioms.  Therefore, Gordon would be the ideal English instructor for the people of Negros, unlike Duterte who is fluent in neither.

Of course, a well learned and accomplished man as Gordon can contribute in other ways as well.  As a crisis manager for the Red Cross, he could provide emotional and inspirational support, as well as disaster logistics and rescue aid to the victims.  As a legal luminary, Gordon could advise Duterte on any proposals with regard to military and counter-terrorist action and the legality or constitutionality thereof.  After all, he was a lawyer and delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, and is currently an effective lawmaker in the Senate.

Eighth, on the issue of Gordon not being a real Filipino, If Duterte is referring exclusively to ethnicity, then he is incontrovertibly correct.  He is only 50% Filipino due to his Caucasian father, who chose to renounce his American citizenship, become a Filipino citizen, betroth and live with a Filipina in the Philippines, serve Filipinos as their mayor, and eventually die and be buried in the Philippines.  Gordon followed suit, notwithstanding his birth and rearing in the Philippines and is yet to be deceased.

If, on the other hand, the definition of a Filipino is expanded to include a Philippine citizen who religiously performs his civic duty, then Gordon is 100% Filipino.  If the definition includes a citizen who contemplates and honors Filipino heroes and martyrs, then Gordon is 100% Filipino.  If the definition includes a public servant who defends and upholds Filipino institutions and the Philippine Constitution, then Gordon is 100% Filipino.  In a word, if the definition of being a Filipino is simply one who embraces Filipino culture and supporting causes and policies which will advance or uplift the Filipino people, then Gordon is 100% Filipino.  Is that not all that should matter?  Duterte will not even fulfill his constitutional mandate of protecting the Philippines’ territorial sovereignty in Panatag Shoal.  Perhaps we should rightfully say that he is 50% Filipino and 50% Chinese for acquiescing this fundamental right to China.

Ninth, from where did all Duterte’s derogatory and puerile comments about Gordon’s intelligence (or lack thereof) and excess weight emanate?  One can only speculate.  Perhaps this was a display of the former’s own intelligence (or lack thereof).  Perhaps it was another typical demonstration of his character (or lack thereof).  Perhaps such histrionics was simply an indicator of his own inadequacies or insecurities projected deeply from his own subconscious.  Perhaps it is due to his upbringing in the province. de0a  Whatever it may be, one thing is certain: Digong’s obsession with Dick finally overwhelmed him.  Indeed, ranting about Dick for approximately twenty minutes in a speech, which was supposed to commemorate the BFP, made this clearly transparent.

In conclusion, I wish to inculcate our countrymen with some important points.  First, we must always remember that a popular president does not equate to a good president.  That is why Gordon’s grasp of history, his foresight, and his persistent vigilance are qualities we should come to appreciate and cultivate within ourselves.

Second, we must understand that Gordon’s civility and humility in handling Duterte’s excoriation exalts him and makes him the better man, as well as the better public servant.  Indeed, his restraint in personal attacks against Duterte is a display of good character, diplomacy, and cognizance of domestic, as well as global optics, which could impact international relations.

Third, we must appreciate the founders and their concept of civilian supremacy over the military in order to preserve our government’s peaceful transfer of power.

Finally, my friends and countrymen, we must never, under any circumstances, underestimate or take for granted, the value and impact of Dick . . . Dick Gordon, that is.

A Federal Philippines: The Time-Tested Model

By Marcial Bonifacio

Third of 4 parts

Having presented my reasons for the federalist shift while also addressing contrarian views, I also propose that the Constitutional Commission scrutinizes, adapts, and includes the American government’s model—in full or, at least, in part.  If only in part, I propose a few particular safeguards be assimilated into the new Philippine constitution.  In the meantime, it seems appropriate to scrutinize my reasons for including the U.S. model in making the transition to federalism.

Best Ideas

First and foremost, America’s republic is comprised of the best historical ideas.  Indeed, the founders scrutinized the governing systems of the predominant Western civilizations—ancient and contemporary.  These include Greece, Rome, France, and England from which the founders derived the concepts of liberty, justice, trial by jury, separation of powers, democracy, republicanism, and self-government.  The founders meticulously studied the rise and fall of tyrannical governments in those nations, as well as their own experience with King George III in framing a constitution which would preclude such occurrences in the U.S.

Preexisting Government Infrastructure

Second, since the Philippine government was largely framed after the U.S. government, the familiar preexisting federal infrastructure or apparatus of the separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches facilitates a more congenial transition to federalism much more so than abolishing it as parliamentary government advocates and proponents of PDP-Laban Federalism Institute’s model seek to do.  Even the anti-colonialist Delegate Manuel Roxas defended the ratification of the 1935 Constitution (although it is a gross variation of America’s original constitution):

Why have we preferred the Government established under this draft?  Because it is the Government with which we are familiar.  It is the form of government fundamentally such as it exists today; it is the only kind of government we have found to be in consonance with our experience, and with the necessary modification capable of permitting a fair play of social forces and allowing the people to conduct the presidential system.

It must be noted that I do not oppose a parliamentary form of government per se.  I simply would support it only as a last resort, i.e., when all reforms under a presidential federal system (e.g., the establishment of an electoral college to elect the president and a Senate elected by regional legislatures instead of at large) fail, but I digress.


Third, America’s system has proven to be the most resilient.  Constitutional law Professor Hugh Hewitt points out:

The work of collective genius that is the Constitution has been tested by everything from an actual civil war that claimed 600,000 lives to various panics, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Recession, not to mention impeachments and assassinations, political-judicial meltdowns like Florida in 2000, and dozens of scandals—and it does not break.  It is more resilient than any other modern constitution, a remarkable, nearly perfect balance of competing powers and separated authorities that has endured and will endure.  Those who fear it is off the road and in the ditch have to ignore history’s many examples of America righting itself after trauma and setback.

Consider America’s progress in the abolition of slavery, suffrage for women, and civil rights for blacks, all of which happened within 229 years of the establishment of the U.S. government.  In spite of such turbulent occasions, the world’s oldest written supreme law of the land, the U.S. Constitution, remains largely intact.  Contrast that with our three Philippine constitutions—of 1935, 1973, and 1987—all promulgated and implemented within a single century.  Additionally, President Rodrigo Duterte has raised the specter of a revolutionary government, which all betokens the instability of the Philippine government.

Unequivocal Language

Fourth, the language of the U.S. Constitution is very clear in distinguishing the powers of the federal government from that of the states.  Article 1, Section 8 enumerates the federal powers:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States…To borrow Money on the credit of the United States…To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes…To coin money…To establish Post Offices and post Roads…To raise and support Armies.

The Tenth Amendment, the last of the Bill of Rights, betokens the threshold at which the states (or the people) are sovereign, which is the cornerstone of federalism.  It states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the People.”  The American founder and principal author of the Constitution, James Madison, elaborates on the nature of these powers in Federalist 45:

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace negotiation, and foreign commerce . . . The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the state.

Indeed, it is those “few and defined” powers of the federal government which accounts for a simple, comprehensible, and short constitution.  Contrast that with our lengthy constitution of 1987, which manifests a government exceeding the size and scope imposed by America’s founders.

Federalism in the Philippines

At the left is a printout of a 53-page copy of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, whereas to the right is a single replicated page of the U.S. Constitution.

Based on Natural Rights

Fifth, it is the first written constitution based on our timeless, ubiquitous, natural rights, which intrinsically circumscribe the national government and betoken the vast range of our individual liberty.  Indeed, the U.S. Declaration of Independence (upon which America’s constitution is based) betokens man’s universal and intrinsic equality and endowment of “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Even the Philippine revolutionary and anti-colonialist Apolinario Mabini acknowledged such rights, stemming from “natural law,” when attributing the success of the U.S. government to the major work of two of its founders, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine:

The ruler’s success is always to be found in the adjustment of his practical measures to the natural and immutable order of things and to the special needs of the locality, an adjustment that can be made with the help of theoretical knowledge and experience. The source of all failures in government can therefore be found, not in (mistaken) theories but in unprincipled practices arising from base passions or ignorance. If the Government of the United States has been able to lead the Union along the paths of prosperity and greatness, it is because its practices have not diverged from the theories contained in the Declaration of Independence and of the Rights of Man, which constitute an exposition of the principles of natural law implanted by the scientific revolutions in the political field.

This is excerpted from “The Philippine Case for Federalism, Its Form, and Its Safeguards” by Marcial Bonifacio.  Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 are accessible by clicking on their links.